Fare Playing Field? 30 taxi associations decry Uber partnership with Hong Kong cab company

A taxi offering service through Uber Flash in Singapore last January. Photo via ComfortDelGro Taxi/Facebook
A taxi offering service through Uber Flash in Singapore last January. Photo via ComfortDelGro Taxi/Facebook

More than 30 taxi associations in Hong Kong are expected to file a formal complaint to the city’s authorities today over Uber’s latest attempt to find a workaround to operate in the city.

The car-sharing service will be holding a press conference tomorrow morning announcing the launch of a new service called Uber Flash, which will match users with either the nearest taxi or UberX — a similar service to Uber Taxi in Japan and Taiwan.

Local outlets reported on Friday that the taxi company cooperating with Uber on the new service is Tin Shing Motors Holdings Limited, which Apple Daily reports owns about 20 of the city’s cabs.

But the taxi associations opposed to this new service maintain that Uber is still an unlicensed cab service, and that the partnership with a taxi company indirectly recognizes unlicensed vehicles illegally offering car hire services, a practice known as “pak pai.”

The 30-plus taxi associations that have come out against Uber Flash own more than 10,000, or 60 per cent, of Hong Kong’s cabs. According to the Transport Department, there are 18,163 cabs operating in the city.

Chan Ming-sang, the chairman of the Sun Hing Taxi Radio Association and one of the people leading the putsch against Uber, told HK01: “What you have here is an old taxi company cooperating with Uber, which is a ‘pak pai’ business, that will seriously affect the taxi ecology.”

Chan added that there is no room for Hong Kong taxis to cooperate with Uber, that the new service was simply an effort to legitimize Uber in the eyes of the public, and that to permit it to go forward would be to indirectly recognize Uber as a legal car hire service.

Although it’s used by more than a million people in Hong Kong, Uber is still technically illegal in the SAR because its drivers don’t have the necessary permits to offer car hire services, putting them in a precarious legal situation.

The city’s taxi industry, meanwhile, has been the subject of numerous complaints in recent years, with many criticizing drivers for refusing rides, overcharging, and being generally surly. In 2017, the Consumer Council urged the authorities to look into legalizing car-hailing services like Uber, arguing that competition is needed to improve the sector.

However, officials appear to moving in the opposite direction, with the Transport and Housing Bureau (THB) submitting a paper to the Legislative Council last month proposing stiffer fines and license suspensions for drivers caught offering car hire services without the appropriate permits.

Lawmakers were divided on the proposal, with some arguing that the tougher penalties didn’t go far enough in combating the scourge of convenient, reasonably priced transportation, and others maintaining that penalizing drivers does nothing to punish the companies behind them, let alone to serve the demand that clearly exists.

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